Eat healthy? But are you eating well?

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Hello, today I”m going to continue my Foundations 101 series on the Foundations for the Good Life. I’m sure you have an idea in your mind what it means to eat healthy. Instead of talking about WHAT to eat, I’d like to focus in on the psychology today – why would a person eat ‘healthy’?

Positive and Problematic Reasons to Eat Healthy

There are both positive and problematic reasons for wanting to eat healthy.

Positive reasons could include:

  • Fueling your body for the things you want to do
  • Taking care of yourself so that you can care for the people you care about (that’s a lot of caring)
  • Choosing food that makes you feel good
  • Self-care and self-compassion

Problematic reasons could include:

  • Wanting to force your body to look a certain way. (This usually goes along with a belief that the way your body naturally looks is ugly or shameful)
  • Punishing yourself for past indulgences (goes along with feelings of guilt and shame)
  • Believing you don’t deserve to eat food that you enjoy (goes along with a belief that healthy food is not tasty)

Why does it matter why I want to eat healthy?

When people try to eat healthy for problematic reasons, there are usually many negative feelings going on in the background. Eating ‘healthy’ becomes a way to try to squash those feelings, which never ends well.
So what should I do with this information? If you are struggling with some of those negative feelings, working with a mental health professional is a good option. If you don’t have access to a mental health professional or want to try a few things on your own, here are some ideas.

  • journaling,
  • mindfulness, and
  • focusing on some of the more positive reasons (that you may already have working for you)

(And be on the look out for future articles πŸ™‚ )

Okay so I eat healthy for positive reasons. What does it mean to eat well then?

When I talk about eating well, I do mean including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, and good fat. But it goes beyond the food. I also mean:

  • flavoring your meals with herbs and spices so that it’s tasty to you,
  • cooking at home,
  • sharing your meals with others,
  • listening to your hunger, fullness and cravings, and
  • enjoying your food.

Enjoying your food is not just about enjoying the flavors on your tongue, though that’s a big part of it. It’s also enjoying the feeling of putting food in your stomach when you are hungry. Enjoying the feeling of satisfaction after you eat. Feeling energized and ready to take on the next part of your day.

It’s a process of trial and error. What works for one person may not work for another, but there are patterns that we see again and again in the healthiest populations. The food guides and other tools are intended to share these general patterns. But then we try to apply the pattern to ourselves and the picture can become a little less clear.

The plate method is one strategy to eat healthy and well.

Take for example the plate method. It is my favorite tool because it is so visual and simple to understand. Β½ plate vegetables, ΒΌ plate starch, ΒΌ plate protein, with the option of dairy and fruit on the side. Here is an example of a meal I made recently.

Plate method: chicken, quinoa, and green beans

Chicken, quinoa, and green beans cooked in garlic!

My favorite thing about this tool for healthy eating is that it doesn’t require any special tools. You don’t have to start measuring your food or counting calories. It’s about balance. To get the most out of this tool, use it as a general guide. Not all meals will exactly follow the formula – even the picture I used as an example didn’t. There’s more than just a 1/2 plate of vegetables because there’s some mixed into the quinoa. But you could just as easily got the other way with just a bit more carbs or protein sometimes.

This tool works for me and many people I know, but doesn’t work for everyone. People who are highly active may need more carbohydrates/starchy foods or more protein to feel satisfied. Other the other hand, some people feel more energized and satisfied by a plate with only vegetables and protein, no starchy foods. And what your body needs will change from one day to another.

This is both the fun and the frustration of eating well. It is fun to run experiments and see what happens, especially when they ‘work’ and you feel better. It is frustrating to try all sorts of things and not find any pattern at all. 1 Self-experimentation2 is a very powerful tool. I mentioned journaling as a tool to help figure out what is going on with the psychology of eating. It can be a helpful tool as well when you’re doing experiments to figure out what strategies work best for you.

Next steps

Next time you choose what you are going to eat or drink, or sit down to a meal or snack, I’d like to invite you to pay attention to what you are thinking and feeling, just for a moment. If you’ve never paused to consider why you are eating what you are eating, it can be really interesting to pay attention to what is going on in your mind and body.

Until next time,

  1. I’ll put a shameless plug in here for dietitians. This is one place where working with a dietitian can be super helpful. An outside person can see things that you can’t, and suggest experiments that you may not have tried.
  2. Darya Rose has a great blog post about this very thing..

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